Core Web Vitals – what does this mean for SEO? • Glass Mountains

Core Web Vitals – what does this mean for SEO?

Google is constantly changing and evolving their algorithms that crawl our websites. Continuously altering the playing field that dictates which search queries relate to which web pages. This is why Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is such big business.

And Google is changing the playing field again….

Shifting Sands

Every once in awhile Google issues a major update to their systems. They typically issue notes which go alongside such an update but, at the same time, such notes are not super detailed as Google don’t want anyone to try and game the system.

Google wants people to find useful content which answers their search query – and they want content providers (e.g. website owners) to create content which is focussed on answering such queries – rather than content which is focussed on appealing to Google and some perhaps badly informed SEO tactic.

Of late, we are starting to see signs of an important Google update coming down the road….

Optimising for Page Experience

Neil Patel wrote a very interesting piece that said that he thought Google was going to be ranking in favour of pages with a better ‘page experience‘.

But what does ‘page experience‘ mean?

Insights from the Chromium Team

The above link references this video (itself taken from Google’s original post):

The video is demonstrating an example of poor website behaviour that Google wants to discourage.

Now you can be forgiven for missing the issue at first glance so please allow me to point it out to you: when the person clicks ‘No, go back‘ at around the 00:02 mark, the page jolts as new content is inserted into the page.

If you missed it, this ‘new content‘ is:

…the result of that new content insertion is that the ‘Yes, place my order’ button is now in the space previously occupied by the ‘No, go back‘ button – which means the user can easily mistakenly click the wrong button!

Google is using the fancy phrase ‘Cumulative Layout Shift‘ (CLS) to describe the issue you are seeing in the video.

You may well think “Look, I would never trick users like this so this doesn’t affect me” but I would say you are wrong. Yes, there might be a small % of shoddy websites out there which try to pull such visual tricks on website visitors, but the reality is that many websites do this by accident.

To understand how this can accidentally happen, we need to dig a little deeper…

Layers of competing code

Websites can be easily enhanced with scripts, plugins, and third party services. These enhancements cover things such as cookie optins, Facebook Messenger chat windows, services which inject banners ads, Twitter widgets, or multi-functional apps like OptinMonster – the list is endless. All of these services can modify our website content on the fly, which can end up disrupting the user experience. E.g. even a poorly executed cookie banner could be a contributor to poor Cumulative Layout Shift.

A key point to grasp is this: websites can accidentally expose this Cumulative Layout Shift behaviour from a combination of bad website coding and/or perhaps a stack of extra plugins & scripts running on the site – all competing for the web browser to add things to the page.

However, Cumulative Layout Shift is only one aspect that Google is concerned about…

Core Web Vitals

Cumulative Layout Shift is one of three components of a Google initiative aimed at understanding how good website user experience can positively influence website rankings; Google calls this initiative ‘Core Web Vitals‘.

Alongside Cumulative Layout Shift CLS, the two other elements of ‘Core Web Vitals‘ are Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) and First Input Delay (FID). These daunting, technical terms refer to specific parts of how a web page loads in a browser window. In short, Google is trying to give a name to very specific measurements so that they can be taken into account when assessing the qualities of a web page.

Google uses the term ‘signals‘ to refer to things they can measure about a web page which can then go on to influence how that web page appears in the search results pages.

Google has had ‘signals’ relating to website experience for a while now, but with Core Web Vitals, Google is going to a whole new level with its focus on this topic.

So what should you do about it?

We do a lot of performance optimisation work (typically with WordPress). Here we strip the website back and go through an extensive checklist to enhance the raw performance. As part of that process, we would put all scripts etc under the microscope to make sure the client’s website really needs the service as each extra script comes with a performance hit. The fewer scripts, the less the performance hit – it’s simple as that. And where scripts etc are needed, we follow the best practice for integrating them.

Now that Google is saying that they are going to keep a close eye on Web Core Vitals (such as Cumulative Layout Shift etc), this means we’ll need be even more vigilant here – many of these scripts can potentially contribute to ‘layout shift’ if they insert content (eg chat widgets) into the page, adding to the negative impact of each script.

How can I tell if I have issues?

It’s all well and good me warning you about this, but how can you tell if you got a problem?

Google has added a new element to their excellent Google Search Console service:

Reminder: Google Search Console is the free service which gives you the low down on how Google ‘sees’ your website. It has some similarities to Google Analytics but instead, here the focus is much more on the technical mechanics of how Google indexes your website (and, importantly, any issues or errors it encounters).

Fig – Core Web Vitals now in Google Search Console

As you see from the screenshot above. we now have Core Web Vitals in Google Search Console, click on that and you’ll see something like:

Fig – example of summary Core Web Vitals report in GSC

This screenshot above is taken from our Google Search Console (GSC). It’s saying we have:

If I click into the ‘30 URLs need improvement’, we can see:

Fig – drilling into Core Web Vitals report in GSC

In the above screenshot, we are seeing that phrase CLS Issue (reminder CLS = Cumulative Layout Shift).

Clicking further, I can see the exact pages which are being flagged as potentially having an issue and then perform whatever remedial action is appropriate (as we would do when Google Search Console throws up any typical issue for any of the websites which we help manage).

Note: we’ve got a lot more to explore with this new report in Google Search Console. As we wrestle with that, we’ll create new content to help you. Be sure to subscribe to our articles to stay informed.

Key Takeaway

Google is clearly optimising for sleeker user experience going forward. Any steps which you can take which will make your website a faster, smoother, and more engaging experience which solves users needs, the better.

From what we can tell, Google will be rolling out this update in 2021 (delayed because of COVID) so that gives website owners plenty of time to start planning and refining their websites. Not sure where to start? Perhaps use us to review your website.

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